In a speech almost bordering on desperation, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi on Thursday asked the warring factions of the Punjab Congress to unite or be ready for yet another defeat at the hustings.
While his interaction with block and district presidents lasted for over an hour, his five-minute address to the party’s rank -- the general house comprising MPs, MLAs, office-bearers of the state executive and former Punjab Congress chiefs -- was clear: you can win only if you stay united.
He said the Punjab government was growing unpopular by the day but the faction-ridden state Congress had failed to use the ammunition. “If we are together, nobody can defeat the Congress in Punjab. It is only Congress that can defeat Congress. So I appeal to you to unite. Sitting in Delhi, I know of the issues in Punjab. There are police atrocities and suicides by farmers. There is corruption and unemployment. I had spoken last time about the drug menace. But our party has not been able to corner them. If we have to form the next government, we have to work together, be together,” he said, endorsing the state unit’s ‘Save Punjab from Drugs’ campaign from November 14, the birth anniversary of first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
Endorses CBI probe
Punjab Congress president Partap Singh Bajwa said Rahul had also endorsed the demand for a CBI probe into the drug racket. Capt Amarinder Singh, deputy leader of the Congress in Lok Sabha, had opposed the demand earlier reposing his faith in the Punjab Police investigation. With some MLAs having raised a banner of revolt against Bajwa at a recent meeting of the Congress Legislature Party (CLP), an over-cautious Bajwa and secretary in-charge of Punjab, Harish Chaudhary, wound up the meeting soon after Rahul’s address. Due to paucity of time, they would be given an audience in New Delhi, Chaudhary said.
However, soon after the unity lesson, knives were out as the block presidents owing allegiance to rival camps openly traded charges over the meeting being “fixed”.
“The mike was being passed on to only those who Bajwa wanted. We wanted to speak but were not allowed, it was all fixed,” said Kamal Aggarwal, the block president of Mudki in Ferozepur.
Block presidents from Ludhiana —loyalists of former district Congress committee president Pawan Dewan who was recently shunted out by Bajwa — said they wanted to complain against the “autocratic” working of Bajwa.
‘No democracy this’
“Ludhiana was one of the three seats the Congress had won in the Lok Sabha polls. Rahul told us last time that we would be taken into confidence while deciding candidates for the state elections. But we got to know about our DCC president’s removal in the papers the next day. This is not democracy but dandacracy (rule of the baton),” Satwinder Singh and Baljinder Singh, both block presidents from Ludhiana, said.
They were counter-attacked by block president from Bhawanigarh in Sangrur, Varinder Kumar, who said they were just doing Amarinder’s bidding.
“This is the time to speak up for the party. They are all traitors. Even I raised my hand thrice but was not allowed to speak,” Kumar said.
Another block president from Pathankot, Vibhuti Sharma, said, “How can Rahul hear over 260 district and block presidents in an hour’s time? There was no pick-and-choose over who was allowed to speak.”
Some of them, on condition of anonymity, said they told Rahul that the infighting should end.
“The party should either restore unity or change the entire top leadership. Else the Congress is doomed,” one of them said.